In less than a year, more Americans have died of COVID-19 than died during World War II, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
In the 1,347 days from the attack on Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, 405,399 Americans died fighting in World War II, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In less than a quarter of that time, at least 410,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19.
These historic tragedies are connected solely by the scale of death and injuries – except for a few soldiers who fought in the war but lost their battle against the coronavirus and the few who survived both.
Still, looking at the two moments together perhaps helps us remember the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of young U.S. soldiers and recognize the serious threat the coronavirus pandemic poses.
In recent weeks, COVID-19 deaths have risen so steadily that the rate of American deaths could be measured in seconds. An American died every 19 seconds on Jan. 12 – the only time the rate fell below 20 seconds.
That’s even faster than the death rate all the Allied forces soldiers suffered (a death every 20 seconds) on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when more than 4,400 soldiers died during the invasion. Deaths reported on President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day matched that rate.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, left 2,403 Americans dead. COVID-19 deaths have exceeded that toll nearly 30 times since Dec. 1.
Biden pledged that his administration would accelerate the U.S. vaccination rate in his first 100 days. About 40% of the 31.2 million doses had been administered as of Jan. 15, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Track vaccine distribution by state: How many people in the USA have received a shot?
Infections, which have portended higher death rates, remain at the highest levels since the pandemic arrived in the USA nearly a year ago. That will probably keep this country as a world leader in infections and deaths in the days, or potentially weeks, to come.
Now that COVID-19 has supplanted World War II, this pandemic ranks as the third-deadliest event in the history of the United States, behind the Civil War of 1861-1865 and the flu pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish flu.
Projections suggest that reaching or exceeding either milestone is unlikely, according to an update Jan. 15 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
That said, the CDC announced Jan. 15 that any forecasts could be negated by the emergence of more contagious variants of the virus that could become the dominant strain in the USA by March. Conversely, the development of therapeutics might lessen the disease’s worst effects.
This pandemic has has a historic impact on the country’s life expectancy.
U.S. life expectancy has been falling compared with other wealthy nations since the 1980s. A study released Jan. 14 by the University of Southern California and Princeton University suggests U.S. life expectancy fell by a full year in 2020 largely because of COVID-19 deaths.
As 2021 begins with these unsettling statistics, the push for more daily vaccinations, more therapeutics and continued social distancing and mask use, the IHME forecasts new infections and subsequent deaths could begin declining within the next two weeks.
Maybe in the coming months, Americans can celebrate together the end of another hard-fought victory.
Photos: Arlington National Cemetery Public Affairs, National Archives, AP, AFP/Getty Images
Contributing: George Petras, Mitchell Thorson, Jorge L. Ortiz